Whernside House - Kettlewell Youth Hostel

Compiled by the YHA volunteer archivist, John Martin, 01/04/2019

The new hostel, Whernside House, was purchased late in 1942 for £1,850, with the deeds passing to the YHA Trust on 20th February1943. Colin Hare’s book A Walk around Kettlewell describes how the property had been specially built about 1915 (another source has 1903) as a guest house, run by Mrs Carradice, wife of the schoolmaster. In the early 1940s it was Mrs Heseltine’s guest house, baker’s shop and café. It consisted of the main house of two floors with further attic rooms above, an L-shaped extension to the rear left, served by a lane, and a steep rear garden on three levels. A shop display window bay to the left of the central entrance is seen in hostel pictures for 30 years or so.

Whernside House in 1938 photo Graham Chamberlain

Whernside House in 1938 – photo Graham Chamberlain (Above)

Robert Gummerson

Robert Gummerson (centre), always photographed with beret and pipe, with his two dogs Punch and Midge and Kettlewell regulars Arthur Rushton and Freddie Lund at a game of dominoes atthe King’s Head, Kettlewell [photo courtesy Graham Chamberlain] (Above)

The hostel opened in 1943. The first wardens were the much-travelled and respected Robert and Doris Gummerson. The Gummersons had started their YHA careers in 1936 at lonely Swinklebank, Longsleddale, north of Kendal, before moving lock, stock and barrel to Jerusalem Farm hostel, high on the Lancashire Pennines near Colne, in a blizzard in January 1941. Their next move took them to Kettlewell, also in a blizzard, to make ready for the hostel’s opening in January 1943. They stayed for three years, before moving on to another new, though shortlived, hostel at nearby Bishopdale in 1946. Further Yorkshire Dales YHA moves took them to Aysgarth (again, new) in 1951, Stainforth in 1954 and back to Aysgarth by 1957, before Robert died in 1958. Doris continued to warden in the area until her death in 1964.

The Gummersons’ lasting legacy was a rich fund of hostel anecdotes by Robert, roughly typed up by him and now a treasure in the YHA Archive. Not least was owning a succession of bitch collies whose mathematical prowess made headlines in newspapers and on the radio. They had a reputation for playing card games and dominoes, counting the numbers of guests staying, and even offering some kind of conversation.

Robert wrote of further experiences at Whernside House: By 1942 YHA membership had reached a record figure and it was necessary to open new hostels. The West Riding, about this time, opened Kettlewell, Linton, Scar Top and Pateley Bridge. There had been a self-cookers’ hostel at the Old School for many years, but usage was so great at this time that it was incapable of supplying the necessary accommodation. Whernside House came on the market, and we were fortunate enough to be given the wardenship… It was our dog Punch who became friendly with one of the farmers and broke the ice for us…

Our previous hostels had depended on oil for illumination. Here we had electric, which we thought a great improvement. It was not long before we had second thoughts. The plant was very small and depended for most part on water from the local beck for power, and the light would frequently fail at the most inconvenient times. There would be a hurried search for the ‘Engineer’, a local who looked after it, and the explanation was usually that a trout had got into the pipe.

Membership had grown enormously; on the other hand rationing was making itself felt. The traditional English breakfast of bacon and eggs was becoming a memory, and we were introducing baked beans. If beans are omitted from the menu breakfast today the youngsters feel they are being defrauded; baked beans have become the staple diet of self-cookers.

The excitement of spending a first night in a hostel is understandable and some school parties can be very trying. One such, a party of girls, was at Kettlewell and long after lights out were scampering about on the landing. After due warning, Mrs Gummerson went upstairs armed with a stick. When they heard her coming, they rushed about like rabbits to their respective rooms. She caught the last one and applied the stick in the appropriate place, after which all was silent. The following morning there was an unusual liveliness and  whispering among the children, and Mrs Gummerson was told: ‘You hit the teacher last night when you came up with the stick.’

During the winter of 1944-45 an Aga cooker was installed here, and thanks to the perseverance of several members the hut was moved from the Old School and re-erected at the back of Whernside House for use as a cycle shed. All the equipment was moved from the Old School when YHA’s tenancy there ended.

In the late war years the West Riding was witnessing unprecedented usage of its youth hostels. Over 7,000 stays were recorded in 1944, a figure not matched until over 30 years later, though the capacity of 60 beds stayed constant. Norman and Vi Young took over from the Gummersons in 1946 and stayed for at least a decade. They and the steady stream of hostellers at that time would have appreciated the new drying room, due in 1948. Mr and Mrs Sutcliffe were the next wardens, at the tail-end of the 1950s. They were in charge during December 1957, when, according to Youth Hosteller, February 1958:

the attention of the whole country was concentrated on six YHA members trapped underground at Kettlewell and the efforts made by a host of volunteers in the successful rescue. Kettlewell hostel became the operation ‘command post’ and grateful thanks are due to the wardens, Molly and Albert Sutcliffe, who coped so magnificently with the unprecedented circumstances.

An improved hostel shop for the convenience of members was fitted in 1957. Less welcome was a string of bad luck two years later, when Albert Sutcliffe was involved in a car crash and then fell through a roof while fighting a fire in the village. In the manner of the day, he was soon back at YHA work.

Further enhancement came to the hostel in the early 1960s. It was completely reequipped with new bedding, and Mr and Mrs Devitt, who were by 1963 firmly established at Kettlewell, enjoyed a refurnished common room, dedicated to regional worker Arthur Hammonds. In this year the old cycle shed was demolished and replaced; this was presumably the old hut from the former hostel. Another step forward in 1965 were the considerable improvements to the toilet facilities at Kettlewell.

wernside house kettlewell

This attractive postcard of Whernside House probably dates from the YHA’s first years here. The bay front, later removed, indicated former use as a shop, and the YHA triangle appears to be temporarily perched by the step (author’s collection) (Above)

This undated transparency from the camera of George Miller is the earliest colour image found of the hostel, with steps still in place to the shop entrance. Members’ kitchen paraphernalia can be seen through the plate-glass windows. The fire escape is of much simpler construction than that fitted later. Warden Graham Chamberlain replaced both features (author’s collection) (Above)